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How to create a common vision for collaboration

From the experts | Posted on February 25, 2014 by Erika Van Noort

Like many companies, Softchoice has invested in a number of collaborative technologies over the years. Some for general use, others for specific tasks in dedicated lines of business. And like many companies, we’ve unfortunately accumulated a hodge-podge of different technologies that are used inconsistently across the organization.

Start with an Audit

Our IT team agreed that a common vision for collaboration across the company was critical for adoption and measuring ROI. It was also important to avoid collaboration tool fatigue. So our first step was to hold a collaboration vision workshop, which happens to also be a service we offer to clients, to answer the question “What exactly are we trying to achieve with this technology?”

“The vision workshop helped us come to agreement that we may have too many tools and should sunset some features, if not entire tools once we decide on the ones we want to go with,” said Francis Li, VP of IT at Softchoice.

One easy to implement recommendation that came out of the workshop was to perform an inventory of collaboration tools, and create a scorecard to gauge the usage of those tools by department. “If a tool is under-utilized, maybe we need to put energy into training people how to use it, and inspire users to evangelize the need for collaboration,” said Li.

To demonstrate some of this confusion, at Softchoice, Microsoft Lync is the default IM platform, with Cisco TelePresence set up in a several hub offices. This means Cisco’s Jabber IM client is being used for instant messaging too. From a webinar/screensharing perspective, some employees use Cisco Webex and others use Lync. For social networking and crowdsourcing, we use Yammer and several internally-developed tools.

But it’s unlikely that any CIO or IT manager is going to be able to start at a grassroots level to control collaboration tool creep. “Most IT shops probably have something already in use whether they’re aware of it or not,” said Li. “We had a groundswell of Yammer usage before we adopted it officially.”

Softchoice recently decided to standardize on Box as its file-sharing collaboration tool, after it was discovered through our audit how many employees were already using it independently. “We found out there were actually 138 users using the free version of Box, tied to their softchoice.com email address,” said Li. “It led us to believe they were using it for work purposes, and they adopted it before we formally introduced it to our environment.”

That’s the case in almost every organization these days, he added. Whether employees are using Box, Dropbox, Evernote, Google Docs or any other free version of a collaboration tool, it’s clear employees want to use these tools for work, at work.

Avoid islands of collaboration

Developing a common vision for collaboration involves cross-functional change management. “This is not a project that IT can execute on an island and then deploy,” said Li. “You need to secure business ownership outside of IT and get on the same page with what their requirements are and set a common direction.”

That means talking to business managers, finding out what their needs are, presenting them with the recommended solution and making sure they sign off on it.

“Even that’s not enough,” said Li. “You need their sponsorship to ensure success.” That means, for example, when choosing Box as the company’s file-sharing standard, business managers need to support that — and manage users who might be using other tools.

“To get ROI on Box we can’t have pockets of the organization using Dropbox or Evernote or Google Docs,” he said. “That creates islands of collaboration.”

Measure, Assess, Re-invest

While Li says it can be difficult to come up with a tangible ROI, it’s important to look at the adoption of collaboration tools. If people aren’t using them, it’s hard to justify the investment.

To measure adoption, his team is looking to put together a comprehensive scorecard, which scores different types of collaboration (say, if someone uploads a file on Box, or if someone holds a multi-participant Lync meeting). That helps to provide visibility into which departments are leveraging the tools more than others, and which users or departments might need more training.

Veronica Skender, customer/technical training instructor with Softchoice, heads up a pilot program to train internal employees on Lync. The goal is to eventually train the entire company on Lync, as well as provide a framework for training on other collaboration tools.

During the vision workshop, she discovered that a lot of employees didn’t know the ins and outs of using Lync. In one case, an employee was holding meetings with remote staff across North America, using cameras pointed at a real whiteboard. “It’s so simple to just show her how to use the built-in whiteboard available right on her screen,” said Skender.

After introducing the pilot program, Skender says the use of the company’s traditional audio-conferencing bridge has decreased significantly, while the use of Lync has increased — which is exactly what she was hoping would happen. The goal is to eventually get rid of the audio-conferencing bridge, which costs thousands of dollars each month.

The Vision Workshop has helped the Softchoice team create a common vision around how we collaborate. This benefits not only employees, but ultimately helps us deliver even better services to clients through thought leadership, expertise and best practices gained in the process.

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